The talented Barry Siegel recently stepped down from his post as president of the General Council of Homeowners Associations. He kindly provided us with some reflections on his years of service and his many contributions to the Port community.
Q: How did you get involved with the General Council?
A: Dr. Bill Cunnick, then the president of the Montfort Hills Civic Association, and my wife Arlene plotted behind my back to make me the association's representative to the General Council. My wife knew of my affection and admiration for Dr. Cunnick and guessed correctly that I wouldn't turn him down if he insisted that he no longer had the time to do both civic jobs himself.
Q: What is the General Council?
A: It is an umbrella group of 22 homeowner associations in Port. Our program is geared to making local government citizen-friendly, reviewing special district budgets, and ensuring that development is sustainable and serves the needs and interests of the wider community. We recently celebrated our 10th anniversary.
Q: You introduced a monthly Distinguished Guest series at the General Council. What were some of your reasons for this addition?
A: For one thing, it doesn't hurt attendance any. For another, I wanted invited guests like County Comptroller Fred Parola, State Senator Michael Balboni and Town Supervisor May Newburger to learn firsthand what the concerns of Port civic leaders are and how much we care about Port. Finally, lack of communication can be harmful. For example, we never had a school board member at any of our meetings in the past. Beginning in 1996, however, we have had every single member as our guest, some, many times. It may not have brought peace to the school board, but has provided a valuable forum for all sides to air many issues.
Q: Have your guests usually been elected officials?
A: Nearly every Town Board member and tax district commissioner has been a guest, but many others come to mind. We had the leadership team of the Fire Medics and were struck by their professionalism and personal sacrifices. Stretch Ryder, Jake Eisenman,and Roy Smitheimer made a fine presentation on behalf of the Business Improvement District. Phoebe Goodman of the Nassau Citizens Budget Committee advised us on what to look for in reviewing special tax district budgets. The authors of a State Health Department study of the health risks posed by the Port Washington landfill came down from Albany to answer our questions. And of course, Schools Superintendent Dr. Albert Inserra and Library Director Nancy Curtin were frequent guests.
Q: You have been the president of the General Council for four years. What has been your greatest satisfaction?
A: That's easy. The opportunity to empower and encourage Port homeowners to involve themselves in our civic life. This community is rich in talented, intelligent, and compassionate people.
Q: What about concrete accomplishments?
A: A good recent example is provided by our Committee on Responsible Development, ably co-chaired by Tinu Thakore and Dolores O'Brien. Its specific recommendations were incorporated into two comprehensive building code revisions adopted by the town last year.
Q: Is there anything you regret?
A: More needs to be done to bridge the fault line between those who have been here for many years, and newcomers to this community. There are multi-generational families here who fret that their children may be priced out of Port, especially as real estate taxes continue to mount. And the truth is they must have done something right over the years if so many of us have chosen to move here.
Q: What is your educational background and what kind of work do you do?
A: My law degree is from Columbia, where I also received my undergraduate degree and an MBA. I served in the United States Naval Reserve. I am an attorney who has specialized in capital markets issues. For most of my professional career, I maintained dual offices at the American Stock Exchange and in Washington.
Q. Tell us about your family life.
A: My wife Arlene was born and raised in Albuquerque, New Mexico. We met at a party in the Flatiron District in Manhattan. It is a family joke that my sister moved to New Mexico only to meet someone from New York, while I staying in New York only to meet someone from New Mexico. Our wedding was on the grounds of my sister's lovely home in Sante Fe.
We have lived in Port for eleven years. Our daughter Kyra is 11 and Taryn is 9.
Q. Why did you move to Port?
A: My favorite cousin, Renee Greenspan, lived here for many years. I recognized that all three of her sons turned out really well. That was an important omen as we were beginning to raise a family of our own.
Q: Do you have any thoughts about the schools?
A: We are extremely pleased with the Daly School ever since Dr. Jeff Morris came on board as principal. Our daughters are remarkably stimulated and engaged by the teachers there, and are active participants in many of the afterschool clubs recently added.
Q: What are your hobbies?
A: My wife will tell you she is an Internet widow. When not on-line, I play tennis, bike, ski, and hang out with my kids. On the last point, I often learn more about what is going on in town at the soccer fields on Saturdays than at a General Council meeting.
Q: Is this your swan song from civic participation?
A: You are not getting rid of me that easily. I just organized two successful fund raisers for the Daly graduating class and am presently working with a local business to raise money for breast cancer research.